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Twice John identifies Jesus as the "Lamb/Ἀμνὸς of God" (ESV):

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb (Ἀμνὸς) of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)

and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb (Ἀμνὸς) of God!” (John 1:36)

In Revelation, "The Lamb" is always called Ἀρνίον and is never called Ἀμνὸς. For example:

saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb (Ἀρνίον) who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12)

Ἀμνὸς and Ἀρνίον are different words identified as synonyms yet do not have an etymological connection. According to the King James concordance Ἀρνίον is used only in Revelation and in the plural form in John 21:15:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs (ἀρνία).” (John 21:15)

Peter is to feed the plural lambs/ἀρνία of Jesus. Since the singular ἀρνίον is the diminutive of ἀρήν, Peter's feeding of the diminutive ἀρνία lambs, implies there is a greater Lamb and logically Jesus is the Ἀρήν.

John's Gospel presents two possible words whose meaning is Lamb to refer to Jesus either "Lamb/Ἀρήν" or "Lamb/Ἀμνὸς." In addition, since (plural) lambs ἀρνία are to be fed by Peter, so too the (singular) lamb ἀρνίον is to be fed by Peter.

In considering the language of the Gospel and Revelation, I see two questions:

  1. Why call the Lamb of Revelation "Ἀρνίον" not "Ἀμνὸς?" Why not call the Lamb who was slain The Lamb/Ἀμνὸς of God who takes away the sin of the world?
  2. Why call the Lamb in Revelation by the diminutive "Ἀρνίον" not "Ἀρήν"?
  • Few scholars think the Fourth Gospel and the Revelation were written by the same author. That would be the simplest reason why they don't use the same term. – user2910 May 9 '17 at 18:51
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    It's a demonstrable fact that different biblical authors show a natural preference of vocabulary. If that's not a convincing reason for why the two authors would prefer different terms when talking about a particular animal (sheep), that's fair enough. However, 'divine inspiration' has nothing to do with that, nor should 'divine inspiration' be used as a catch-all objection to otherwise demonstrable facts. – user2910 May 9 '17 at 21:28
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    @MarkEdward Then I suppose a third aspect of the question is simply why the writer of Revelation chose the diminutive form. Does this infer there is a "greater" Lamb? Or should we simply accept this as the writer's preference which happens to be contrary to the actual meaning and use of the word by others? – Revelation Lad May 9 '17 at 22:29
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    Arnion is obviously a preference of the writer of Revelation, since that is the word he consistently uses. However I don't think we can draw from that a conclusion that his use is "contrary to the actual meaning and use of the word". I would go the other way and argue that the meaning of any word is defined by its practical usage. So if we want to know what John means by the word in Revelation, we would need to study the range of meaning he himself gives to it in that text. – Peter Kirkpatrick May 10 '17 at 9:54
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    Great question! Hope someone can answer this. – Bagpipes May 10 '17 at 16:15
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Note: This answer originally addressed a previous version of the question.


I wouldn't say arnion [αρνιον] means the lesser lamb. It's more like the small lamb—maybe lamblet if that was actually a real word in English, similar to how booklet is a small book.

Perhaps this is why arnion is used. Starting in Revelation 4, John sees great and majestic things in the throne room of heaven, including the sea of glass, the four living creatures, and the strong/mighty angel in Revelation 5. But none of these mighty beings were worthy to open the scroll except for the arnion, the small lamb, looking as if it had been slain:

And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain...
-Revelation 5:6 (NKJV)

The small lamb stood in the midst of the throne, the elders, and the four living creatures, and no doubt paled in comparison to them. But it was only through the death of this arnion, this small lamb that seemed insignificant by appearance, that the seals of the scroll could be loosed.

Arnion continuing to be used through the rest of Revelation probably is meant to convey the fact that "the lamb" spoken of in later chapters is the same small lamb first mentioned in chapter 5, the same small lamb who was able to open the scroll and redeem the saints.

John the Baptist calling Jesus the lamb [amnos / αμνος] of God is using more of a general term for lamb that wouldn't signify any real difference in size or magnitude from it's surroundings. All lambs are smaller than adult sheep, but amnos would not really convey the connotation of a small lamb.

  • @RevelationLad - My apologies, but I don't quite understand what you are looking for (I think you might need to speak to me like I'm 5). "Αμνος" and "αρην" do not denote a small lamb. If John sees a small lamb in his vision in Revelation, then it is quite appropriate for him to use "αρνιον." – Bʀɪᴀɴ May 26 '17 at 21:09
  • @RevelationLad - So? You basically just said that a small lamb is the same thing as a small lamb. It seems to me that you are trying to find an extra hidden meaning in something that has none. – Bʀɪᴀɴ May 26 '17 at 23:25
  • @RevelationLad - Respectfully, the only thing unusual is your statement that "The plain reading of Revelation is the lamb is not the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Where is the rule that says Jesus must always be referred to as an "αμνος" in every possible context? I am not able to speak for the various translators and couldn't tell you why they don't use "small/little lamb" in Rev 5:6. I am also not able to speak for John either, which is why I included words such as "perhaps" and "probably" in my answer. – Bʀɪᴀɴ May 27 '17 at 22:01
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I would translate Revelation 5:11-12 like this:

11Then I saw, and heard the voice of, many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders. And the number of them was ten thousands time ten thousands and thousands of thousands, 12saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the lamb ἀρνίον that was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing."

Details:

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As the OP has observed, the Greek word ἀρνίον (Strong's G721 - arnion), given as "lamb" by the KJV translators, is what would be referred to in older English as a "lambkin", i.e. a young lamb.

Providing a reason for John's choice of word here can only be speculative, but it is likely related to Jesus' age. John was a man in his 80s when he wrote the Revelation, so one can imagine the term "lambkin" would be reflective of the heart-felt loss of his Savior and Lord who died many years before, at the tender age of 33 (or thereabouts).

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The fifth chapter of Revelation, in which the Lamb first appears, begins with the question as to who is worthy to open the scroll (book) in God's right hand and break its seven seals. John is then told that the worthy one is "the Lion of the tribe of Judah." Then John sees, not a lion, but a slaughtered lamb. So there is a contrast here. What was expected was not what was seen. The use of the diminutive (arnion) - a small lamb - intensifies the contrast.

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